This article is an overview of some of the most important events that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. Tidbits and dates are derived from The History Channel’s website http://www.history.com
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks set in motion what became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She refused to give up her seat to a white rider on the bus, thus defying a southern tradition that required blacks to give seats in the front of buses to white riders. When she was jailed, a black community boycott of the city’s buses began. The boycott lasted more than a year, demonstrating the unity and determination of black residents and inspiring blacks elsewhere.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as the boycott movement’s most prominent leader that possessed unique conciliatory and oratorical skills. He also understood the significance of the boycott and quickly comprehended that the nonviolent strategies used by Mahatma Gandhi could be used by southern blacks. While Parks and King were members of the NAACP, the Montgomery movement led to the establishment of a new organization in 1957 called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with Dr. King as its president.
Martin Luther the King Jr. remained as the major spokesperson for black ambitions. On February 1, 1960, four freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College started a wave of student sit-ins intended to end segregation at southern lunch counters. These protests spread quickly throughout the South and led to the creation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April of 1960. This student-ran group, was even more aggressive in its use of nonviolent direct action strategies than Dr. King’s SCLC.
While the SCLC fixated its efforts in the urban centers, SNCC’s activities were focused on the rural black areas of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, where white resistance was the most intense. Black residents in those areas, many of which had been involved in civil rights efforts since the 40s and 50s, stressed for voter registration rather than desegregation as its goal. Two Mississippi residents Amzie Moore and Fannie Lou Hamer were amongst the leaders who worked closely with SNCC to start a new organization called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party (MFDP). The MFDP received national attention which paved the way for a huge upsurge in southern black political activity.
Organizations such as the NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC faced increasingly strong challenges from new militant groups, such as the Black Panther party in the late 1960s. The Black Panthers’ tactic of “picking up the gun” showed the sentiments of many inner-city blacks. Riots and rebellions erupted during the last half of the 1960s. Most of those uprisings were influenced by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. In addition, proponents of racial liberation often saw the African-American freedom struggle in international terms, as a movement for human rights and national self-determination for all peoples.